Constance Savery: Services of Song CWS

Services of Song

Savery's wrote seven services of song, listed here in chronological order. Each featured a dramatic narrative be read aloud or displayed on a magic lantern slide to an audience. During the performance, the audience joined in singing as many as a dozen hymns included in the printed service. Savery's services of song were sponsored by W. Nicholson & Sons, who also commissioned new hymns to be sung along with old favorites and sold subsequently as sheet music.

The Christmas Flower Shop. London: W. Nicholson & Sons, 14 Paternoster Square, London E.C.4. Aug. 27, 1932, 23 pp. Service Cover

A contemporary advertisement from W. Nicholson & Sons says that The Christmas Flower Shop is "An unconventional and charming story of Christmastide." The price was sixpence. The first lines of the twelve hymns, in order, are: Rejoice! The Lord is King; Where dwellest Thou, O rose; Would I have been at Bethlehem; Hail to the dayspring, ever bright; Cold blows the wind on Bethlehem's hill; O heart, forgive, forgive; Tell the story o'er again; For thousand, thousand mercies new; Lead on, O prince Emmanuel; Not in halls of regal splendour; He is with us today; Hark! hark! hark! hark! hark! Sixty-four years later, Savery used a (different) hymn beginning "Cold blows the wind on Bethlehem's hill" to conclude her final draft of The Quicksilver Chronicle.
In sharp contrast to In His Steps and His Brother's Keeper, below, in which Savery edited the words of Charles M. Sheldon, this is her story, a Christmas present for all of us. It is a pity that the Savery services of song, along with countless others, are now out of print and unavailable.
Miss Jane and Miss Ann Pettifer have kept a little shop for many years that they rename every December "The Christmas Flower Shop." This season they have been so busy that a box of japonica placed under the counter for delivery to the orphanage is overlooked until it is too late to deliver. They send it across the street to Mr. Derrick, strict guardian of a young scamp, Mike.
Mike is recovering in a distant city from an automobile accident. He had run away after a silly escapade at his school and was only identified at the hospital. Mike will be coming home, but Mr. Derrick has determined that it will be to isolation in a bare bedroom and no Christmas.
The japonica, favorite flower of Derrick's dead wife, effect a change, and by the time Mike arrives, all is well.

Gifts of Gold. London: W. Nicholson & Sons, 14 Paternoster Square, London E.C.4. 1935, 19 pp. Service Cover

A publisher's blurb for this service of song says: "A pleasing story of love and sacrifice which brought happiness to many." The twelve hymns are: Blessed are they that do his commandments; Seek for heavenly treasures; Great is the Lord, the prince of light and glory; "Let them that love him be shining"; Come, Holy Spirit, come; Quench not the Spirit, turn not away; The quiet vale of pray'r, sweet pray'r; Weigh your words and actions well; Thro' the pearly gates on high; As panteth the hart for the water-brooks; See! from the morning land; Father of love and pow'r.
An excellent sermon in song, the Savery narrative tells a story without many surprises. A rusty key to old Mrs. Finch's corner cupboard turns up by chance, and she finds both memories and a hoard of gold coins, presumed stolen years ago. Shortly thereafter, in an incident reminiscent of A Pot of Blue Squills, she hears a mysterious voice saying "I counsel thee to buy Me gold."
A two-day search through the Bible brings her to that verse in Revelation, after which she has an ecstatic religious experience, and goes off finally, rather like Scrooge, to visit estranged, needy relations who, of course, get the gold.

In His Steps. London: W. Nicholson & Sons, 14 Paternoster Square, London E.C.4. Oct. 1935, 23 pp. Service Cover

Freely adapted from the C. M. Sheldon world-famous story of the same name and arranged as a SERVICE OF SONG
The service provides fifteen hymns with words and music, combining both 'Tonic and Sol-Fa' notations. The first lines of the hymns, in order, are: God of eternal truth; Jesus, I my cross have taken; What will you do with the King called Jesus; I know not what awaits me; Are you walking with the Saviour; Jesu, Jesu, full of mercy; These hands of mine I bring Thee, Lord; Just as I am; Jesus, lover of my soul; He leads me on; Dear master, I would follow; Saviour, while my heart is tender; Time is passing on my brother; There is a King of Glory; and Come Near, O God, and guard us.
Beyond the title page, only eight pages of the service are text. The language of the text is Charles Sheldon's, and Savery's contribution is to be measured by what she omitted rather than by what she retained. To squeeze a 301-page book into a song service, Savery reduced the number of important characters from eighteen to eight, dispensed with two love stories, omitted a murder and funeral, suppressed a temperance campaign, restricted the "What Would Jesus Do?" movement to the city in which it started, and eliminated Sheldon's long lists of what Jesus would do if he were a prosperous 1899 churchgoer. Savery made one, entirely characteristic, change. The fashionable novelist, Jasper Chase, instead of turning his back on his pledge and "denying his Lord," remains true, tossing his wicked manuscript into the fire. Savery's original work diary confesses to the change saying
I was distressed that a fellow author should be the only one to fail the Christ.
Savery's confession does not appear in the fair copy of her diary that she made for the University of Oregon in 1973.
I am grateful to the Slide Reading Library of the Magic Lantern Society in London for making photocopies of this publication, and I recommend that interested readers visit their web site at

God's Promises. London: W. Nicholson & Sons, 14 Paternoster Square, London E.C.4. 1st quarter, 1936, 23 pp. Service Cover

In a letter to Agneta Thomson, April 15, 1992, Savery mentions writing "...the narrative part, not the musical." The date is taken from the work diaries. It is clear to me that this story is original with Savery, rather than a condensation of someone else's work.
Thirteen hymns were chosen: The Lord is nigh; Ringing from the mountain; Hark, 'tis the voice of the Saviour; How shall I live; Come ye toiling hearts that labour; Go, tell your wants to Jesus; O Father, behold me, bending before Thee; How blest was that life; O make your life a tuneful song; I am praying, blessed saviour; He cometh not a King to reign; O Father, dear, I know I feel; High as the sun that shines above.
In a setting reminiscent of Froxfield Hospital (see The Tea Party), six little almshouses sit around a stone-flagged courtyard. Five are inhabited by rather mean-spirited widows, who are displeased to find the newest occupant will be a spinster, Miss Smith, from out of town, and they conspire to turn a cold shoulder so that she will leave.
Miss Smith finds her new home barren and her neighbors forbidding until she discovers flower bulbs and twenty or thirty pink and blue rolls of paper in the woodshed. Encouraged by promises of God printed on the rolls, which she opens one day at a time, she cleans house, plants bulbs, and leans on God.
Spring arrives, the bulbs bloom, and Providence, in the unlikely form of influenza, takes her into the widows' cottages, where she finds fulfillment of God's promises.

His Brother's Keeper. London: W. Nicholson & Sons, 14 Paternoster Square, London E.C.4. 1936, 24 pp. Service Cover

The publisher distributed a generous portion of His Brother's Keeper, the first 12 of 24 pages, for advertising purposes, and my annotations are based upon this sample. Like In His Steps, above, the Service is adapted from a book by Charles M. Sheldon, and the words are again Sheldon's, not Savery's. The first half of Sheldon's book is superior to the last half, and it would have been interesting to see if Savery's adaptation would have had the same imbalance.
Sheldon divides humanity into two classes, the prosperous and the masses. Principal heroes and villains are drawn from the former, while the latter are to be loved and ministered to, but not admitted into equal relationships. An exception in Sheldon's book is Eric, a union leader and childhood friend of Stuart, the main character. Eric is one of three major characters that Savery omitted. It is unlikely that the complicated relationship between Eric and Stuart could have been worked out in the eight pages of text available to Savery, so the omission was a reasonable one.
Fourteen hymns were chosen: Hosanna to the King; Kind Are All His Ways; Serve the Lord with Gladness; Sweet Surprises; God Will Reward the Faithful; Only for Thee; Anywhere with Jesus; The Lord's Vineyard; Whom I Serve; Beautiful Gate; Shout the Saviour's Praises; The Lamb of God; Pressing On; and Hark! Ten Thousand Harps and Voices.
I am grateful to the Slide Reading Library of the Magic Lantern Society for copying this publication for me. I have added a little color to their photocopy for the illustration. Interested readers should visit their web site at:

The Christmas Cloak. London: W. Nicholson & Sons, 14 Paternoster Square, London E.C.4. Autumn, 1937. 28 pp.

S. J. Shaylor, Nicholson's editor, didn't care for "Dame Durnaby's Christmas Cloak" and shortened the title. I have not been able to locate a copy.

White Unto Harvest. London: W. Nicholson & Sons, 14 Paternoster Square, London E.C.4. Aug. 3, 1938, 19 pp. Service Cover

The eleven hymns in this Service are O praise the Lord, praise the Lord all ye nations; Great God, as seasons disappear; Go forth and sow the seeds; Go forth to the field of the harvest; The highway of the Lord prepare; Thou, O God, are praised in Sion; While Thee I seek, protecting pow'r; O let the words of Jesus ring; Jesus, we Thy cross have taken; Let us take our place in the field of grace; The day Thou gavest, Lord, is ended.
Miss Prissy and Miss Prue listen helplessly as Luke, their nephew, stumbles through an appeal for his missionary hospital. While he remembers his text,
Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest,
he remembers little else, lurching from his various needs to pitiful tales of the people he serves. In his bald appeal for mission money, he neglects to mention the charity for which the meeting was organized. As often as he loses his place, which he does frequently, he repeats his text while he is gathering his thoughts. The audience is bored and offended, and his aunts are appalled.
There is worse to come. Flip Pridd, a young messenger boy, goes about the countryside the next day bawling out "Lift up your eyes...." in a loud discordant voice to an improvised tune.
Is there any need to tell the rest of the story? Be assured that Savery does it well.

This web site © 2010-22 by Eric Schonblom. The unpublished works of Constance Savery are reproduced with the permission of her literary heir and copyright owner, J. D. Hummerstone. Updated January 3, 2022.